If you’re black and pregnant, heart disease diagnosis may come too late

Women who are diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM) during late pregnancy or within a month following delivery are more likely to experience restored cardiac function and improved outcomes compared to those who are diagnosed later in the postpartum period, according to a new study from Penn Medicine. The findings underscore the need for increased awareness and monitoring of heart failure symptoms, particularly among black women, who, on average, are diagnosed significantly later than white patients, researchers found.

A young child wearing a doctor coat and stethoscope listens to the belly of a pregnant woman smiling down at the child.

Authors say the findings, published in Hypertension and presented at the American Heart Association’s 2019 Scientific Sessions, may explain the striking disparities in outcomes between white and black patients with PPCM. In a previous study, published in JAMA Cardiology, the team found black women were only about half as likely to return to normal levels of cardiac function and took twice as long to do so.

“Our findings demonstrate that important racial disparities exist not only in the outcomes of patients with PPCM, but in the timing of diagnosis and baseline level of cardiac function,” says the study’s lead author Jennifer Lewey, director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Program and co-director of the Pregnancy and Heart Disease Program at Penn Medicine. “Cardiomyopathy is the leading cause of maternal mortality in the postpartum period, and while we recommend increased monitoring for peripartum cardiomyopathy in all patients, it’s particularly important in black women. Earlier diagnoses of PPCM may help to prevent the poor outcomes and expedite their recovery to normal cardiac function.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.